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Outer Limits

May 3, 2007 By

Ropin' the Wind

Last year, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) made an announcement that may put the state at the forefront of the renewable energy frontier. There's no escaping Texas' reputation as home to big oil, but if GLO Commissioner James Patterson is right, the state may be ground zero for the coming "wind rush." In a GLO press release, Patterson claimed he was "announcing one cure for America's addiction to oil." The cure is a proposed wind farm off the Texas coast, which -- if completed -- will be one of two enormous wind farms to be built on reclaimed oil platforms.

Both Louisiana-based Wind Energy Systems Technologies (WEST) and Australia-based Superior Renewable Energy sought and received lease agreements from the GLO to build offshore wind farms spread over tens of thousands of acres in the Gulf.

Turbines mounted on the repurposed oil platforms would harness coastal wind energy. The smaller WEST project in Louisiana aims to produce enough energy for 50,000 homes while the larger Superior Renewable Energy farm promises to power more than 100,000. WEST is set to launch first with plans to start operating in late 2008.


Shoot the Moon

Armadillo Aerospace, a Mesquite, Texas-based company, put some of its out-of-this-world technology to the test this past October. The company was competing at the Wirefly X-Prize Cup exposition -- created by the X-Prize foundation and New Mexico to encourage advances in private space travel -- in the deserts near Las Cruces, N.M.

The original X-Prize, awarded to SpaceShipOne in 2004, has been expanded to cover not only rocketry but also other space-faring vehicles, such as a lunar lander. It was in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, a competition at the exposition funded by NASA, that Armadillo Aerospace attempted to make history.

The company's privately designed and built, liquid oxygen-fueled craft made three attempts to lift off to the required 50 meters in altitude, maintain flight and land within 100 meters of the takeoff spot. All went well during the first launch until the vehicle returned for a landing. It was then one of the craft's legs buckled, toppling the vehicle and setting it aflame. Despite repair efforts, two later attempts also failed. No one claimed the prize, but the contest will be held again later this year.


High-Tech Rehab
A Texas companyA $50 million rehabilitation facility recently opened its doors in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. But the Center for the Intrepid is no ordinary rehab clinic -- it's a state-of-the-art facility loaded with the latest in rehabilitation technology. The center is designed to treat wounded U.S. soldiers, with an emphasis on rehabilitating those who have lost limbs or undergone amputation.  

Funded entirely through private donations from 600,000 Americans, the four-story, 60,000-square-foot center houses an array of high-tech treatment tools and programs. Besides amenities like an indoor running track and a climbing wall, the center boasts something called a computer-assisted rehabilitation environment, or CAREN.

CAREN is the only simulator of its kind in the U.S. Built in a large dome, it is an immersive video experience that virtualizes several activities to help patients relearn them. According to an Army press release, CAREN can replicate everything from walking down the sidewalk to water sports.

Patients and their families at the Center for the Intrepid are also housed in 16,800-square-foot Fisher Houses -- multifamily homes built by the nonprofit Fisher House program.


Current Cars
A Texas company developed an energy storage technology that might spark the electric car industry and could completely change the battery industry as well.

Cedar Park-based EEStor claims it can produce a barium-titanate battery that drastically improves upon today's leading lithium-ion technology. Some of the claims are taking

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